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Monday 23 October 2023

Reviews: The Rolling Stones, Creeper, Of Mice & Men, Modern Technology (Reviews By Rich Piva, Alex Swift, Danika Ulrich & Mark Young)

Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds (Polydor) [Rich Piva]

I am not going to waste any time explaining who the band I am about to do a review for is, because if you are not aware of a little band called The Rolling Stones you have some serious issues that need to be attended to and I am not equipped to assist in these matters. What I can say is that this may be the best Stones album since Steel Wheels and maybe even Tattoo You. Think I’m nuts? Well, you may be right, but I stand my ground that I have not been as entertained by a Stones album since 1989. You get the trademark Stones sound, a bunch of cool guests, their best songwriting in a long time, and just an overall great rock record from the kings.

Angry is such a great opener, a totally Stones track one. I love the guitar and how catchy the song is. The album sounds excellent which is a testament to why the Stones have always ruled; they could make this all glossy and over the top produced (considering the dude who produced as worked with Post Malone and Justin Bieber) but there is no need to when you own Rock and Roll. You get a bit funky and get some sax on Close To You, which somehow doesn’t come across creepy at all coming from an 80-year-old. 

Depending On You is a trademark Stones ballad (pick any of them) it that slow burn leads perfectly into the edgy Bite My Head Off where Mick’s teen angst somehow returns in the form of a loose, fun, and naughty track with an up-and-comer playing bass, some guy named McCartney. We have not heard as many f words from Mick since 1973 and it works perfectly. Speaking with others regarding a couple of the tracks like Whole Wide World, musically they are great but comes across a bit whiney, where the world is against them and the just want to get away. I mean you’re the Stones, I don’t really want to hear about the troubles you have…unless this is Mick singing about having a six-year-old at 80, that I could get behind. 

Dreamy Skies with its bluesy slide guitar and country vibes recalls any number of tracks in this style in the catalog, but the whole take a break from it all brings back that whiney vibe, but I am willing to overlook it considering cool it is. Mess It Up sees the Stones getting funky with their bad selves. While Live By The Sword is kind of silly lyrically it is probably the coolest song on the album considering it includes both the late Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, reuniting the original rhythm section for one last time. I love the piano work done by another random new guy named Elton John. Tumbling Dice vines emit from Tell Me Straight. Even Keith gets lead vocals on the chill and reflective Tell Me Straight

The highlight of Hackney Diamonds is Sweet Sounds Of Heaven, with Stevie Wonder on the keys and Mick trading vocal licks with Lady Gaga and hanging in there like he was 30. The song is something to behold and is my favorite Stones song since the early 80s. The closer, a cover of Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone Blues is such a fitting close to what could possibly be the last Rolling Stones album. Who knows though, there could be three more given how these guys are still going.

This may be my first review of a band with a guy in their 80s, but the Stones are in no way any kind of ordinary band. I am not here to debate if they are the best rock band of all time, but what I am here to say is that The Rolling Stones keep giving us gifts even sixty years since they changed the world. Hackney Diamonds is the perfect Stones record for 2023 and will hang with anything else you listen to this year. I hope it is not their last. 8/10

Creeper – Sanguivore (Spinefarm Records) [Alex Swift]

Charting Creeper’s musical reinventions is no small feat. Thay emerged on to the scene in the mid 2010’s with a cult appeal, and a sound that drew on horror punk and post-hardcore in equal measure. This was made grander on the bands 2017 debut, Eternity In Your Arms, which brought a fantastic theatrical zeal to proceedings – merely a taste of experiments to come. Not long after though, the band had fans panicked when on the final show of the tour cycle for that album the band unexpectedly “disbanded”. Of course, this was all a ruse, partly inspired by David Bowie’s decision to kill the character of Ziggy Stardust at a gig in the 70’s, and soon enough the band returned to with the alias of “the fugitives of heaven” for a sound that drew on Americana, new wave and glam rock – an incarnation of the band that lasted all of one album, when in another of their stunts, vocalist William Gould was beheaded by his fellow band members at the end of that tour.

This brings us to Sanguivore which see the band reinventing themselves as leather clad servants of hell, perfecting a sound that draws on the entire history of music inspired by our infernal master, from Meat Loaf to Sisters Of Mercy. Still, even though there’s temptation to try and identify each and every influence on the album, what really sets Creeper apart is their ability to lean into the realm of utter ridiculousness while sounding absolutely convincing and committed to the act!

Further Than Forever opens the experience, Will Gould – hilariously renamed William ‘Von’ Gould, for the purposes of this project – crooning atop a delicate piano. A rush of guitars and choir vocals usher in the bombast, with the band taking the mantra of “what would Jim Steinman do?” that they employed in making this album to heart, as the over-zealous chorus speaks of Armageddon forged in the fiery romance between a pair of demonic lovers. The middle section of this nine-minute piece see’s the band experimenting with spoken word, and a post-punk surrealism, before the closing few minutes confounds with duelling guitars, and an ambitious zeal that see’s the track progressing towards a gigantic crescendo, before fizzling out in a blaze of glory, the chants of “dragged down to hell!” brilliantly setting the listener up for a ride through the most flamboyant excesses of these musicians imaginations.

Cry To Heaven belongs to a specific subdivision of Creeper songs that we’ll refer to as ‘horny goth rock’, this time with deliciously sinister Vampire imagery. A pulsating synth line pervades the verses, before a gigantic chorus seeing Hannah Greenwood excellently navigating some tricky key changes, gives the song a sense of smirking villainy, that’s only accentuated by the fierceness of the lead guitar work, the soloing on this project outdoing that of any previous work by the five-piece. Sacred Blasphemy again see’s the band leaning into the Misfits-esque aesthetic, but this time with a distinctly gothic twist that allows the lower frequencies to really resonate and chill you to your core. By contrast, the Ballad Of Spook and Mercy is an eerie folk tale that through clever use of tension and atmosphere develops into an operatic piece warning of demons and spirits coming to reap dark days “for us all”.

Not content with already changing styles multiple times, Lovers led Astray is a sincere tribute to the metal of the 80’s, with a blues-laden beginning that gives way to a throbbing electronic section replete with spooky background vocals, before the two styles come together into a vicious dance-rock chorus! Remarkably, I don’t believe you can even criticise these contrasting moods for sounding out of place next to each other. While at a stretch, you could have potentially made the argument with regard to previous Creeper releases that the transitions were sometimes discordant, there is no such randomness here, with every creative decision-making perfect sense within the concept the act are aiming to achieve! Pieces like the NWOBHM-inspired Teenage Sacrifice, and the Damned-esque Chapel Gates shouldn’t work so well next to each other, yet through a powerful grasp of how to write records like a piece of musical theatre, each of these moments feel absolutely earned!

After the ghostly electronic interlude of The Abyss, we get Black Heaven, which might be one of Creepers finest experiments at layering multiple elements to make for an immersive descent into the black. “All hail the original sinner! God’s kingdom will come crashing down!” runs one line, against enveloping layers of synths and guitars, and ethereal backing vocals. While all of these songs play with the idea of fear exceptionally well, this one abandons almost any pretence of irony, for a track that truly sends shivers up the spine!

In keeping with the tradition of the band ending their albums on beautiful piano ballads, More Than Death might be their most beautiful yet, as we’re serenaded with the words “And death fears us, we don’t fear death!” and the final goodbye of “I’ll see you in hell, if I don’t see you before”. Quite why this is so moving is a mystery. I guess its testament to the sheer strength of the songs and performances, that they wrench out an emotional reaction, even when the lyrics play on the fantastical and the otherworldly. That’s the magic of Creeper – far from belonging to any one genre, they exist in a reality of their own. This shameless creative freedom has allowed them to create their greatest project yet with Sanguivore and will continue to serve them well as they shock and inspire with future experiments. 10/10

Of Mice & Men - Tether (Sharptone Records) [Danika Ulrich]

Of Mice & Men have never shielded away from being heavy in their music and their new album Tether is no exception. The album is full of crushing riffs, aggressive screams, and intense breakdowns that was such a joy to listen to. Since the bands ex-frontman Austin Carlile left the group in 2016, Of Mice & Men have not just persevered but also produced some of their best music. The aggression and the major melodic moments that make up the foundation of their sound have been expanded well beyond what they were originally known for.

The evocative opening track Integration ushers listeners into the album with a steady, melancholic start. It serves as a slow, melancholic preface of what's to come with an anthem worthy chorus and massive thunderous drums. Warpaint really brings out the vicious aspects of metalcore. Clean vocals and a slowed tempo at the chorus skillfully temper the tracks angsty vibe that precedes it with screaming vocals and a formidable beat.

Eternal Pessimist, possibly the most aggressive and heaviest on the album, is a noteworthy track that is a wild assault on the senses and doesn't hold back. Whenever the track seems like it's going slow down the relentless breakdowns draw you back in. It's the ideal blend of harsh vocals with a sharp, catchy chorus. One of my favorite songs on the album is Into The Sun. The song's base is laid by a synth intro that gives way to a pounding drum beat. The vocals are really melodic but the heaviness is still present.

Enraptured amplifies the intensity even further. The instrumental part really goes all out in a grandiose way while the resonant and haunting vocals add a really eerie feel to the track. Indigo and Zephyros, the album's final tracks, are a little too serene but nevertheless tie the whole thing together. They serve as reminders that Of Mice & Men are just as thoughtful in their selection of track arrangement and album coherence as they are in their songwriting and the result is a profoundly mesmeric experience.

Tether does a remarkable job of showcasing the bands development while remaining true to their signature sound. The group self-produced and engineered every track on this release. Aaron mixed and mastered the album and drummer Tino designed the cover. Whether he's going for a melodic or aggressive sound, Aaron's influence on Of Mice & Men’s eighth is particularly notable. The group have always managed to have a fair balance of melodic and brutal. My only critique is that the vocals occasionally seem to get lost in the dissonance, especially on the heavier tracks. Otherwise this is yet again another strong release from the metalcore heavyweights. 8/10.

Modern Technology - Conditions Of Worth (Human Worth) [Mark Young]

It must be the weather, changing of the seasons and all that which accounts for this one slipping through the net. Apologies all round! Modern Technology their latest with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Choose Love, to provide humanitarian aid and help those displaced through whatever reason around the globe, which I think is ace.

Onto the music, the duo manage to make an unholy noise, sounding both modern and harking back to influences of the past. It’s not an easy listen, nor an immediate one as fans of speedy, technical etc should look elsewhere. Those who dig on long jams will find a lot to love, as they crank their way through 8 tracks of sonic destruction. This is low down, gritty with a keen eye on making sure every song contains no fat. It has that repetitive riff build that gets in your ears and stays there for ages afterwards. It certainly reminds of the early 90’s and they name-check the Melvins, Helmet and The Jesus Lizard as a base, bands that would go onto influence countless others. Modern Technology take those ideas and mould them into a noise that although sounds as though it could collapse at any moment.

There are no duff songs here, some such as Dead Air could be seen as a traditional doom-noise offering, whilst The Space Between opts for a stripped back opening before dropping the heavy on you. What doesn’t change is the emotion that is there, they have been pushed on to take the cork off and the result is fantastic.

For me, the standout is Conditions Of Worth, a ten-minute opus with a riff that could strip the enamel from your teeth. Its relentless with Chris Clarke switching from spoken word to a voice that cracks as the story is told. It’s the perfect encapsulation of what modern noise rock / sludge should sound like. It just sits and boils until it can no longer be contained, and that fury is let out for all to hear. The rising synths echo some of John Carpenters work on his early films (Escape From New York for one) and there is no doubt that this could sit in any films of that ilk. It’s an incredible song.

I’ve said previously that sludge and its offshoots are not my bag and yet I’ve listened to a load of it this year. Torpor being another recent first so more and more I’m getting into it. This is a strong, strong album for this time of the year, and fans of this should leap onto it. 7/10

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